Update from Student Trustee Alex Walls

Dear St. Mary’s Community,

As the Feb. 23 Board of Trustee Meeting quietly approaches, I would like to take the time to talk about what will be happening this weekend. Among other conversations regarding Master Planning and Strategic Planning, the Board will be setting tuition, room, and board rates for the next academic year. The scheduled rate increases that will be discussed and voted on are 4%, 3%, and 2% respectively.

For many, these annual increases are unacceptable. Every year, we pay more in tuition while we are promised that next year will be better. Yes, prices do increase. However, tuition has been increasing faster than inflation since I have started attending. And every year, it gets harder for our students and their families to pay the cost of attendance. How many students have missed out on experiencing St. Mary’s because of the ever increasing price tag? How many friends and peers have we lost because of their inability to pay to stay? I don’t know; no one does!

For the past four years, I have been vocal about my disdain for these increases. However, as Student Trustee, I will be voting “aye” on this issue at the next meeting. Why the change of heart? Currently in Annapolis, Senate Bill 828, also known as An Act Concerning St. Mary’s College of Maryland – Tuition Freeze and DeSousa-Brent Scholars Completion Grant, is poised to be voted on and approved by the General Assembly this session. This bill, among other things, would increase our state-funded block grant by an additional $800,000 each year for the next four years and mandate a tuition freeze on all in-state students. This freeze would be similar to the tuition freeze that the rest of the University System enjoyed a few years ago.

Even though this bill mandates a tuition freeze, the school will not know the outcome until April and after the budget process is completed. If it passes, the Board of Trustees will retroactively decrease the tuition for in-state students for next fall. But to demonstrate to the state that we need the funds, we must continue going through the motions of raising tuition. If we don’t, the College may miss out on the additional funding offered. Therefore, it would be advantageous for the Board to vote on raising tuition now and bringing it down later after we receive the appropriations from the state.

But mark my words, I will continue to advocate for the students of St. Mary’s. On Saturday, I will let the Board know that I am voting for the increase for the sole reason to demonstrate to the State that we need the buy down. I believe that the Board should vote to decrease tuition at the next Board meeting, even if we don’t receive the additional funds. We have suffered too many increases over the past few years and at some point we must say enough is enough. If we cannot control our costs, what does that say about our financial model or about the public-private relationship we have developed here? Should we continue on the path of becoming a high price, quasi-private liberal arts college hidden behind a public name?

The SGA and Office of Student Activities are organizing vans to take students to the meeting this Saturday in Annapolis. More details will be coming out as the week progresses so stay tuned. Also, if you want to talk to me about the Board meeting, please contact me at atwalls@smcm.edu.

2014-2015 Student Trustee Selected

On Feb. 8, the current Student Trustee, sophomore Taylor Schafer was selected as the Student Trustee for the 2014-2015 school year. 2014-2015 Student Trustee Taylor Schafer

After an arduous process of selection that involved student forums and an interview with the Board, Schafer beat the three other candidates for the position. When asked how she felt about her win, she humbly stated,”I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to represent St. Mary’s among such a great group of people.”

Schafer developed an interest in the position after going to a Board of Trustees meeting earlier in the school year to cover a story for The Point News. “I became interested in the concept of the Board and how they affect the students,” she said. “A couple of people around campus encouraged me to apply so I decided to do it.”

Taylor is the senator of Prince George Hall in the Student Government Association (SGA), the Managing Editor of the Point News, an Orientation Leader, a student ambassador, a Hawk Radio DJ, and a member of the club volleyball team, so she is no stranger to managing her time. “It’s going to be a learning process to get used to the new responsibilities as Student Trustee, but I think that the transition will be smooth with Michael Killius’s help next year,” she said. Michael Killius is the Student Trustee for the 2013-2014 school year.

As Trustee, Schafer is most concerned with reaching out to the student body as a whole, instead of addressing only student representatives. “I would like to see students, faculty, and the administration communicate easier and more often than they currently are about important issues.”

Overall, Schafer is excited to take on the challenge of representing the student body on the Board.

 

Info for Those Interested in Being Student Trustee

Ciao Tutti!

St Mary’s has begun its yearly search for a new Student Trustee.  I was chosen last year to replace Maurielle Stewart at the end of her term this May.  In preparation for this change, we are now looking for a qualified and dependable student to replace me as Student Trustee for the 2013-14 school year.  It is time for someone new to step up and assume this unique but important role.

What does a Student Trustee do? They represent the students! Our college, unlike other public colleges and universities in Maryland, is governed by an independent Board of Trustees.  As Student Trustee, you will be given the opportunity to speak on behalf of your classmates while adding a new perspective to the Board. This representation, unique in higher education, allows students to have access to the highest levels of school governance.

As Trustee, you are required to attend the quarterly Board Meetings so that you can continue to inform the Board Members about the happenings on campus. If problems and crises cause disruptions within the student body, your job is to gather information and report back to college administrators and other trustees so that the interests of the students are not overlooked.

Student Trustees can also influence college policy through their work on the Enrollment and Student Life Committee.  Here, you can voice problems and concerns that students may have about the conditions on campus.  Since you serve with other board members, you have direct access to people who can bring about positive change for our community.

Before becoming Student Trustee, you must first go through a yearlong training process as Student Trustee-in-Training.  You are required to attend both Buildings and Grounds Committee meetings and the quarterly Board Meetings.  Here, you will learn more about the inner workings of the College and how committees are run and organized.  You will also be introduced to your future colleagues, the board members.

Though this is a two year commitment, you are still allowed to Study Abroad during this training period.  Currently, I am studying in Alba, Italy (hence the Italian at the beginning.)  If you wish to still experience life abroad, you will not be discounted during the application process.  In my opinion, a Student Trustee who has studied abroad is in a better position to represent all students, even those who have chosen to leave campus to study elsewhere.  However, if selected, you may only study abroad during the fall semester of your training period.

Starting on Monday, December 5th, applications for the position of Student Trustee-in-Training will be available at the Information Desk inside the Campus Center.  Applications must be completed and submitted by Friday, February 10th.  All applicants are required to attend an open forum where they can introduce themselves and their ideas to the campus community. Two or three finalists are then selected to be interviewed by the Enrollment and Student Life Committee. If selected, you will be presented to the entire Board.

The position of Student Trustee is a great opportunity for someone who wants to give back to the campus community. It allows you a chance to help solve problems that face our school.  Your accomplishments will affect generations of students to come, so no pressure. If selected, you will be the 27th student to hold both this honor and responsibility.

If you are a first-year or sophomore student with a 2.5 GPA or higher you are eligible for selection. If you would like more information please contact either myself, Alexander Walls, at atwalls@smcm.edu or Maurielle Stewart, at mhstewart@smcm.edu.

We will also host several question times next semester on January 18th, 25th, and 27th for any students who are interested in learning more about this position and its responsibilities.

Good luck with your final papers and tests and I look forward to seeing you all again next semester.

Boats and Committees: News from the Trustee

My oh my! There sure has been a lot of excitement floating around campus these past few weeks. I would insert a joke about the mold to the tune of “holy moldy!” or another reference to the “love boat,” but I don’t want to be cliché. Though I am not one of the 350 students who was evacuated from Caroline and Prince George Halls, don’t think I have turned a blind eye to how this disruption has been affecting every facet of this campus community. You may be reading this article from your original residence on-campus, but please realize that we are all still directly affected. When our neighbors are uprooted, our whole campus community is in flux; our family is displaced. All in all, I am extremely proud at the open doors and listening ears that students have been displaying as they rise to help their fellow classmates. And by the time this article is published, the Sea Voyager will be floating in the harbor as the ship and the students get acquainted with their new home for the next few weeks. I feel this is a very ingenious way to deal with an unfortunate situation. Though President Urgo didn’t exactly “buy” us the ship, he and the administration were extremely clever in finding a way to sew the torn piece of cloth back onto the fabric of our home by the river. Let this time be a testament to our resilience as a family unit.

Also, some of you may or may not have heard through the rumor mill about a Public Safety Student Advisory Committee. Well, if you’ve heard, you heard right and it’s on the way. After much dialogue with concerned students and insightful members of administration, I was able to characterize the student-Public Safety relationship as a bit abrasive. Unfortunately, this sentiment was one that existed from the time I joined this community almost four years ago. To remedy this relationship, I came up with the idea of a Public Safety Student Advisory Board that would serve as a permanent mechanism of communication between the student body and Public Safety. It would be a way to aggregate and report student concerns to Public Safety and for them to relay developments back to the student body. This board would be a way to keep both bodies accountable. As of right now, it’s in its last stages of development and I am super excited to get it up and running.

Now, you may be wondering what I’ve been doing amidst all these changes. My main two jobs have been listening and talking. I’ve tried my best to reach out and communicate with anyone who has been affected in any capacity and listen to their stories. Whatever your joys, concerns, or frustrations have been, I have done my best to objectively listen to them all and take down questions that I can then ask to relevant members of administration. Secondly, I’ve been talking. Any information I’ve received I have sent it out to you all as soon as I could. I feel like one of my main objectives was just as simple as making people feel like they were in the loop and connected. I’ve been asking questions and giving you the best answers I could find out. Some members of the press have also contacted me and I’ve done my best to give a well-rounded account of student opinion. As always, if you feel like I can be doing anything better, keep me accountable and let me know! Also, I know that many of you still wonder how a situation this grand could have just cropped up in the middle of the semester. I’ve heard those concerns and they will be addressed as soon as the water settles. I will be sure to let you know what precautionary measures are in place as soon as I find out.

Finally, be on the lookout from a message from Alex Walls, the Student Trustee in Training, about the start of the selection process. This year has been zooming by and before you know it will be time to pick the next Student Trustee! Remember to add Maurielle Student-Trustee on Facebook. I care about each and every one of you. Please let me know what you need from me so I can represent you all in the best way I can!

Greetings from the New Student Trustee

Smiles and waves, St. Mary’s! For those who may not know, I am Maurielle Stewart, your Student Trustee for the 2011-2012 academic year. Some of you may have just read that, nodded, and then pretended like you knew exactly what I do—let me clarify.

As Student Trustee, I am the only student member on the Board of Trustees, the governing body of St. Mary’s College. I am the liaison between the body of trustees and the body of students, or in essence, your microphone. The trick to this is that we both need each other in order to be successful. I can help you all by doing a great job at communicating and defending your interests, but I also need your help. Please come to me with joys, concerns, or anything in between— I am receptive to any means of communication whether it is in the form of a poem, interpretive dance, or just a regular old email.

I don’t like typing the phrase “I’m a senior” let alone saying it aloud. But the reality of the situation is heavy; my time by the River is slipping away. And with that reality glaring me in the face, my mission is to do all I can to serve the St. Mary’s community and really make a difference with the time I have left.

This position will be a challenge for me, but it is also a blessing to all. It gives all of us a soapbox on which to make ourselves heard and to affect change. The expectations for this year are high! What a difference we can make if we just work together and listen to one another. I loudly encourage you all to use this opportunity and take an active interest in shaping the institution and making it your own. Have an opinion! Make it heard! Make me hear it!

Be sure to add Maurielle Student-Trustee as a “friend” on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, @trustmeTRUSTEE— I promise I won’t lead you wrong!

See you on the path,

Maurielle Stewart

P.S. Everyone please wave to your Student Trustee in Training, Alex Walls! He is studying abroad in Italy but will be back to join us next semester!

Student Trustee: College Left in Capable Hands

In February of 2009, I was selected to be the 2010-2011 Student Trustee. It was the beginning of a 27-month commitment, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Over these past 27 months, I have continued to be a student, and just added on the opportunity to represent all students before the Board of Trustees. I’ve used my position to push for change, to fight for the rights of students, and to better every aspect of the school I could think of. I’ve used the position to gain access to certain areas, to sit on committees I might not otherwise have been invited to, and to get meetings on short notice with school administrators. But now I’m graduating.

In February of 2010, Maurielle Stewart was selected to be the 2011-2012 Student Trustee, and in just a few weeks, upon the conclusion of the final Board meeting of the academic year, I will officially pass on the torch to her capable hands. For those of you joining me for graduation in a few weeks, it matters little. For everyone else, you have one or more semesters left at St. Mary’s, and you have all the opportunity in the world to effect change. Maurielle will continue the work I have begun and forge a new path ahead, pushing through progressive ideas that I could only have dreamed of.

When Maurielle was selected, I had my doubts. I could see that she had potential for greatness, but there was still much growing to be done. Little did I know at the time that I still had immense amounts of growing to do as well. The experiences I had from February 2010 until the beginning of this academic year were huge and shaped who I am and what I am capable of. The thing is, I’ve seen similar learning experiences occurring in Maurielle’s life, and as I step down, I do so with immense confidence in the capabilities of my successor.

Maurielle Stewart will do amazing things as Student Trustee. Go to her as issues arise, and let her know what is happening in your lives as they relate to school. What issues do you need taken care of, or what ideas do you have for moving St. Mary’s further into the future? These are things she will need to hear from all of you in order to do the best job she can. Rest assured, she will be one of the best Student Trustees this school has ever seen, and with your help, she may top the whole group of us.

As I say my goodbyes and prepare to move into the real world, I know that the Student Trustee position is in good hands. I know that this whole school is in good hands. So live, love and learn, for however long you still have here, and never stop working to improve the school. With Maurielle at the helm, success is all but guaranteed.

Good luck to all. Catch you on the flip side!

 

Giving What You Can to Keep St. Mary’s Great

A girl I know turned to me and said that this was her last semester, she couldn’t afford to come back. Two days later, a guy stopped me on the path, to ask about financial aid possibilities, saying he was working twenty-hour weeks on top of school and still not making ends meet. Five days later, another person said she was taking twenty-four credits this semester, in an effort to graduate early to avoid additional debt. The next day, I heard from another student who had transferred to College Park already, unable to afford St. Mary’s College.

In nine days I heard from four different students in extreme financial difficulties. At other times throughout the semester, I heard from more than a dozen others in similar situations. Earlier this year, I wrote about what was happening with tuition, and why. I talked about the declining percentage of general budget funds coming from the state, and rising expenses despite austerity efforts. The school is working on solutions, from pushing the state for more money to increasing fundraising efforts for scholarships. Yes, both the school and the state need to work harder, and I’m pushing them on that, but sometimes we can’t wait for others to act. We must act now.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have a parent or other relative or funding source pay for the entirety of our education. We are the ones not struggling to make tuition payments, who take merit-based aid as a nice bonus, rather than as necessity. I am among this group, as many of you reading this article are. That is not to say that I personally have a great deal of money; on the contrary, my bank account is quite small. But what is there isn’t needed to pay for my education. It’s all discretionary funding, and while saving up for post graduation is necessary, maybe I can do with one less new shirt, or one less pack of “Natty Boh.”

At the end of last semester, I made a $200.00 donation for need-based financial aid. As mentioned in an earlier Point News article, another student made a $1,000.00 anonymous donation for need-based financial aid. That is an incredible start. What we need now is every student on the financially stable end of the spectrum, those of us who can afford it, to give whatever we can to help out our fellow students. If all you can give is five dollars, then do it. If you can give more, do it. If you have well off relatives, ask them for money if you’re comfortable doing so. If you have time, write to the legislature and tell them how much we need additional funding. Anything you can give, and anything you can think of outside of direct giving, is helpful. Together, we can help keep every student who wants to stay at St. Mary’s financially capable of doing so. All it takes is a little force of will and a determination as a student body to not let our peers fall by the wayside. Give everything you can, and we can do it.

So open your wallets and open your hearts. Let’s do this thing!

 

Student Trustee: News in Brief On Campus Life

Since there are no huge things happening on campus these days, I figured I’d give a news-in-brief style article this week. So here goes nothing.

Graduation is coming up some day, and my guess is the school will switch back to graduating by majors. I have no insider information on this, but the administration is responsive and there’s been a lot of feedback for keeping tradition.

The inauguration (InURGOration) happened recently and it was awesome. Congratulations to Joe and many thanks to everyone who helped out in the planning and execution stages of the event.

The baseball team has a winning record right now. Someone just informed me of such which is why they made it into this news-in-brief. To all spring athletes, keep kicking butt!

Senior Assassins is going on right now, and as of this writing, I am still alive. By the time this is published, I’ll likely have been killed, but I’m going strong after 48 hours. If anyone knows who is gunning for me, please let me know.

Civility on campus is down, if anyone has been under a rock and hasn’t noticed. Please, if you haven’t been as civil/nice/respectful as you could have been, take a moment, think about it, and join me in trying to better ourselves. I know I’m not innocent, so I’m not trying to call anyone out. Let’s do this together.

Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful, the Arboretum Association, and Grounds Crew did a great deal of beautification recently. We put in a Healing Garden between the St. John’s site and the Cobb House, planted about 25 trees all around campus and had a special pre-inauguration clean up. Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful is continuing weekly clean-ups every Sunday at 1 p.m., meeting at the Campus Center Patio.

Powershift, World Carnival and the Chancellor’s Point Festival are all coming up this month. They’re being organized by Student Environmental Action Coalition, Student Government Association Programs Board and the Chancellor’s Point Club respectively. I encourage all of you to check them out.

SMPs are due in soon, which is terrifying. Good luck to all seniors in completing yours, and when we’re all done you should join me on the water, at the Door, chilling on the Patio, etc. We’ve earned it.

Blue Wind is coming to campus! And I think we’ll still have Chick-fil-A for now, which means we have the best of both worlds for the stomachs of this campus. I won’t get into the politics of it here; I just want to celebrate Blue Wind, for they are delicious!

Finally, I lost my One Card. If you’ve found it, please email me.

 

SGA Substantive and Vital to St. Mary’s

When I came to St. Mary’s as a freshman (way back in the day when we were still called freshmen), the thought of joining the Student Government Association (SGA) had never crossed my mind. It still hadn’t more than a year later when then-SGA President Sunny Schnitzer suggested I apply to be the Student Trustee.

I followed her advice, and when I got the position, even though I wasn’t obligated to go until my senior year, I started attending the meetings. That’s when I discovered, much to my surprise, that the SGA actually does stuff.

I was working under my high school and middle school assumption, when we had SGA and they met every once in a while so they could put things on their college applications/resumes and to plan one or two dances. No way in the world was I interested in doing something that didn’t really do anything.

College SGA is so different, but since I know that’s not good enough to convince any of you, allow me to tell you everything that it has done lately.

First, the SGA is the primary source of funding for the more than one hundred clubs and organizations we have on campus. Over the course of a year, it gives more than $160,000 to clubs. Other things it does each and every year include funding SafeRide, The Point News, Hawk Radio, the Dove Yearbook, and Programs Board (which does the weekly films, world carnival, coffeehouse, comedians, the Nest, and much more).

It hires recycling coordinators, composting coordinators, and an athletic trainer for club sports. Each year it also pays for the purchase of renewable energy credits to completely offset the carbon emissions from our electricity.

Outside of the yearly expenditures, the SGA passes numerous pieces of legislation to accomplish more things.

Some of these include the geothermal wells at the river center, the new club sports field between Waring Commons and Lot T, half the floating docks for recreational dinghies, the barn restoration next to the campus farm, the water trampoline, the Student Investment Group, the Green St. Mary’s Revolving Loan Fund, and, most recently, funding for the Campus Bike Shop (which will hopefully become an annual expenditure).

These aren’t all the things the SGA does, but rather a select list of some of the more prominent ones. With an annual budget of over $400,000, the St. Mary’s SGA has some real power. It is an opportunity for students to effect change on campus and to get events they want to happen to really happen.

It is a way to gain experience working with a collaborative body towards the betterment of the community. It is the voice of the students on all things, whether they are in line with the administration or in stark contrast. It is a tool with which to shape the College.

Any student can go speak their mind at a weekly meeting, contact their senators, or even run for office. Regardless of how you choose to get involved, you should do something. This is our home, and it’s time for us to step up and make it the best home possible.

For more information on the SGA, visit their website at www.smcm.edu/sga.

See you on the Path!

 

Tuition Increases Likely for All Students

Allow me to apologize in advance, because most of what you’re about to read will not be good news.

There will be a tuition increase this year – likely around six percent for in-state and an equal dollar amount for out-of-state.

As with most of you and your families, this institution is suffering financially. Our Foundation is not able to give nearly as much money to the school as it has in the past, and our costs are rising.

How are our costs rising when inflation is so low and we’re doing so many things to cut cost? Three ways: first, cost cuts can only cover so much, as we cannot sacrifice the quality of our program for the sake of budget.

If we did that, we would become just another Salisbury or Frostburg. Second, despite low inflation, some specific expenses continue to rise rapidly. One example is retiree benefits.

Under state law, we are required to provide our employees with a certain level of retiree benefits.

When these premiums rise by ten percent, it hits us hard, costing the institution an additional half million or so dollars, without us seeing any additional benefits.

That hurts. While that is an extreme example, there are other instances of it littered throughout our budget and the budget of every institution in the country.

The third way is perhaps the most difficult one to accept. Our revenue stream is declining.

One of the biggest ways in which this is happening, though there are plenty of others, is through the change in percentage of out-of-state students.

Based on our best estimates, the incoming class of 2015 will likely have forty fewer out-of-state students than the outgoing class of 2011.

That means next year, the whole school will have forty fewer out-of-staters than it does this year.

With an average difference of $10,000 in tuition for in-state versus out-of-state, we’ll have approximately $400,000 less in next years budget.

But shouldn’t the state give us more money for the additional in-state students we have? Well, that’s how it works at most state schools, but we have what’s called a block grant.

That is, we have a certain chunk of money that we get every year, regardless of how many in-state and out-of-state students we have.

That amount normally goes up by the standard rate of inflation each year, and it will go up by that again this year.

The problem is, over the last two decades, the portion of our budget that we get from the government has declined by around twenty percent.

It used to be nearly half of our budget, and now it’s just over a quarter. Again, this raises the question of, “Why?”

In the 1990s, the state government asked us to increase our student population from 1450 to 1850. We said yes, despite not getting a bump to our block grant to coincide with the bump in students.

Earlier this decade, students were seeing annual tuition increases of more than ten percent at times.

This inequity, corrected by charging the students more, is one of the primary reasons our in-state tuition and fees are more than $5,000 higher than University of Maryland College Park.

Not coincidentally, our out-of-state costs are nearly identical with College Park.

These two numbers will go up by the same dollar amount, and not the same percentage, for the foreseeable future, as the college doesn’t want to unfairly distribute financial burdens.

So what’s going to happen with financial aid? The College has made a commitment to increase our financial aid budget by the same percentage as we increase tuition.

While this is necessary, it’s sort of like stealing from the left hand to feed the right.

With our financial aid budget at over six million dollars, a proportionate increase to that detracts from our added revenue due to tuition increase.

Let’s recap: tuition will go up for three reasons. We can only cut costs so much, some expenses continue to rise, and our out-of-state enrollment is shifting significantly.

The proportion of the state government’s contribution to our budget has decreased drastically over the last two decades.

Tuition increases back in the day were insane. Financial aid will still go up by the same percentage. Our budget is suffering big time, even with small tuition increases.

Where do we go from here? We keep looking for ways to cut costs without hurting our program, we keep pressuring the state government to continue with their support and, when possible, to increase it, and we look for more ways to increase financial aid.

As the state balances its books and the economy slowly recovers, things will get better.

Until that time, I promise to do everything in my power to keep tuition increases as low as feasible, and keep looking for new ways to raise money.

When this comes to a vote at the next Board meeting, I will be voting “no” on the issue. It will still pass despite this. Good luck to everyone in making next year’s payment, and I’m sorry I can’t do more.